us_open_2014

Father's Day victory more than just a first major title for Rose

Kinnaird/Getty Images
Justin Rose dedicated his U.S. Open victory to his father, who passed away when he was 21.

ARDMORE, Pa. -- He knew Phil Mickelson still had two holes to play.

But the clouds that had delivered such a driving rain just an hour earlier had parted after Justin Rose tapped in for one final par at the 18th hole on Sunday evening. He felt like he had to seize the moment or he'd regret it for the rest of his life.

So Rose picked his ball out of the hole, kissed it and pointed to the sky. He fought back tears as he thought about his father, Ken, who died of leukemia in 2002 at the age of 57. He remembered the text he sent to his mom late Saturday night, too.

"Let's do it for Dad," Rose had written.

"That would be fantastic," Annie Rose replied.

So he did. Rose realized his lifelong dream, the one his father had nurtured, when he won the 113th U.S. Open with a final-round 70 at Merion Golf Club. Even if the celebration on this seminal Father's Day was a little premature.

"You don't have opportunities to really dedicate a win to someone you love," Rose would explain later. "... My dad was the inspiration for the whole day."

Mickelson still had a chance, of course. So did his playing competitor Hunter Mahan, for that matter. But Rose knew he had to recognize his dad, regardless of what might happen over the next 30 minutes he would spend pacing and soaking up history in the Merion clubhouse.

"Even if Phil had finished birdie, birdie, I just felt like I had done what I could out there," he said. "I felt like I sort of put into practice a lot of the lessons that he's taught me, and I felt like I conducted myself in a way that he would be proud of, win or lose. 

"And that's what today was about for me in a lot of ways as well."

Ken Rose was Justin's first coach. He spent hours on the range with his son, who first broke par at the age of 11 and was a plus-one handicap at the age of 14. He believed his boy could accomplish great things, and he beamed with pride at Royal Birkdale in 1998 when Rose, then an 17-year-old amateur, holed a chip on the last hole to finish a heady fourth.

"I was 21 when he passed away and I always think about it as the time together we had was quality not quantity," Rose said. "... My dad and I were lucky enough to spend a lot of quality time together learning to play the game, after school on the driving range, so I can look back at our life together with a lot of fondness." 

Ken Rose had agonized with his son, too, as he missed his first 21 cuts after he turned pro the day after that British Open. There were those who questioned the wisdom of the decision but the two presented a united front. As he built up what Rose now calls "scar tissue," he worked harder and harder so he wouldn't be known as a one-hit wonder or a flash in the pan.

"I sort of announced myself on the golfing scene probably before I was ready to handle it," Rose acknowledged. "And golf can be a cruel game. And definitely I have had the ups and down, but I think that ultimately it's made me stronger and able to handle the situations like today, for example."

Rose finally won his first European Tour event in Johannesburg, where he was born, in 2002, a few months before his father died. As he did on Sunday, Rose dedicated that victory to Ken. "He's the guy to which I owe the most," Rose had said at the time, and he cried on the phone with Annie, just like he did on Sunday night after the big silver cup was safely cradled in his arms and the Jack Nicklaus medal circled his neck.

Although more success followed -- Rose would even go on to lead the European Tour's Order of Merit in 2007 -- he said he didn't feel that he had put those early struggles behind him until he won twice in the United States in 2010. Interestingly, one of those two victories came at Aronomink, which is located about 15 minutes from Merion, at AT&T National.

"That was sort of when I first felt like I was over the start to my pro career and I could kind of move on and believe in myself and be confident and trust myself under pressure," Rose said. "Today, for example, I just felt very much in control for most of the day."

Until he thought about his father, that is.

Rose got a text from his swing coach Sean Foley before he teed off with his good friend Luke Donald in what was sure to be a pressure-packed final round. He wasn't talking swing keys, though, on what could be a career-definining Sunday. He simply told his student to go out and be the man that Ken taught him to be; the kind of man his two young children, Leo and Charlotte, could look up to.

"Really that was my goal today," Rose said. "So today was about winning the U.S. Open, but it was also about honoring, I guess, great men that have come before us."

And those who are learning to be.